When accomplished local actor Paul M. Wegman died Aug. 24 at the age of 60 another casualty of AIDS he left behind a portfolio of great performances that will live in the minds of his fans. But those of us who knew him even marginally well are blessed with off-stage memories that are almost as rich.
My favorite came during a 2002 production of Much Ado About Nothing in Lake Eola Park. Sometime in the first act, I found Paul taking five near the back of the Walt Disney Amphitheater, enjoying one of the many smoke breaks his role afforded. In the darkness, I could barely make out the glow of mischief that always seemed to dance around the corners of his eyes. His thin legs were crossed underneath his friar's habit, and he inhaled and exhaled the tobacco smoke deeply.
As we made small talk, Paul was approached by a pair of college girls in need of a favor. They had been forced to attend the play for a class, they explained, and wanted him to sign a statement that they had witnessed the entire thing. That way, they could leave early, and no one would be the wiser.
Taken aback yet amused by their cheek, Paul peppered them with questions. Why should he do this for them? (To be nice, I think the response was.) And why should he care about being nice? (Dunno.) On and on the interrogation went, my hilarity rising with his exaggerated incredulity. It was like a show in and of itself one tempered by its star's underlying desire to forge some connection with these strange specimens of humanity. (Even at his most outwardly caustic, Paul had a rare ability to search out the goodness in people.)
One of the girls finally resorted to begging. If she passed the class, she said, her grades for the semester would be strong enough to wangle a reward from her daddy.
And what would that reward be? Paul wondered.
A new car.
"Oh, you!" he scoffed, his voice swelling in theatrical exasperation. He turned his costumed back on them with a fed-up flourish. Without knowing it, they had asked him to do two things he could never countenance: compromise his integrity and undermine the cause of theater. For a car.
"That's it, girls," I remember taking great glee in thinking as they wisely scrammed. "Paul is done with you."
A tribute to Paul Wegman is planned for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at The Parliament House, with a memorial service to follow at 2 p.m. Oct. 2 at Joy Metropolitan Community Church. Come out and let Orlando know that you weren't done with him.
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